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Photo: Simon Davis/ Unfold Stories

Mobile credit expands mass surveillance of ordinary Kenyans

– Coda Story

In this piece for Coda Story, Keren Weitzberg considers the growing impact of ‘Fintech’ apps on Kenyan citizens

Since 2012, digital lending has exploded in popularity in Kenya, with millions of individuals using the services to obtain quick and easy online loans. However, the financial precarity of many of these service users means that a large number of them default on their loans and are driven into debt. Weitzberg argues that while: “‘Fintech’ apps bring credit to poor Kenyans. Debt and invasions of privacy are part of the deal.”

While digital lending apps have been applauded as a means of providing credit to individuals otherwise shut out of financial services, Weitzberg contends that there are a number of negative consequences, including the power of governments and corporations over individuals’ lives, and increased collection of sensitive citizen data.

Weitzberg suggests that a number of factors – such as poverty, lack of regulation and poor financial literacy – are causing many Kenyans to become locked in a potentially catastrophic cycle of debt.

“[M]any Kenyans are finding themselves excluded from financial services after failing to pay loans equivalent to only a few dollars. Around 2.7 million Kenyans have been blacklisted by CRBs in the last three years — 400,000 for defaulting on loans of less than $2. And as is often the case in rapidly expanding and poorly regulated markets, tech has outpaced consumer protection and civic education.”

While it’s easy to celebrate greater consumer choice, there is ample reason to be cautious about giving people the “right” to accrue debt. For some Kenyans, a low credit score is a relatively minor nuisance. But for others, it has dire consequences

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